St. Marys fire officials to mark anniversary of Cindy Devine’s death with extinguisher giveaway

Cindy Devine of St. Thomas was pronounced dead at the scene following a crash just south of London, Ont., in October 2020. Supplied

The loved ones of 35-year-old Cindy Devine, the St. Thomas woman killed in a devastating collision in London’s south end last fall involving an alleged impaired driver, will attend a small ceremony in St. Marys this weekend to honour her life and mark the sombre one-year anniversary of her death.

The ceremony is scheduled to begin outside the town’s fire hall around 10 a.m. Saturday, where local officials estimate they will hand out more than 100 free fire extinguishers to motorists as part of a public safety campaign launched in the wake of Devine’s death.

The campaign, Extinguishers for Cindy, began in November of 2020 with the aim of getting fire extinguishers into as many Ontario vehicles as possible. The campaign also hopes to see a law named after Devine implemented that would mandate them in vehicles.

Since it was launched, the initiative has raised over $11,000 from local residents and businesses and has handed out more than 300 free extinguishers, according to campaign organizer Tony Bendel.

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“We’re talking, you know, major life-saving stuff here. What Cindy went through, nobody should ever have to … go through that or even witness what happened that day,” Bendel said.

Devine was driving down Highbury Avenue to her job at her parents’ cross-stitch store on the afternoon of Oct. 2, 2020 when she became involved in a head-on collision with a pickup truck near Glanworth Road at the southern edge of London.

Devine was pronounced dead by first responders, leaving behind her husband Richard, children Dakota and Page, and stepchildren Aries and Brook.

Emergency crews arrived to find a fiery crash scene. According to media reports at the time, eyewitnesses attempted to rescue a conscious Devine from the wreckage, but were kept back by the heat and flames.

“They ran down there and they were talking to her, she was talking. Her one leg was pinned by the dashboard, and the steering wheel had kind of compressed against her chest,” Bendel said, recalling what he was told by someone who had tried to help.

“There was no power in the vehicle. They couldn’t get the doors open. They were trying to get her out, but a fire came up under the dash and everything. Basically, it just grew so fast (and) pushed them all back.”

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The driver of the other vehicle involved, a 23-year-old St. Thomas man, was hospitalized for non-life-threatening injuries and later charged with a number of impaired driving-related offences. 980 CFPL reached out to the courthouse for an update on his case but did not receive a response by publishing time.

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It was the horrific nature of his friend’s death that prompted Bendel and others to start Extinguishers for Cindy and to push for legislative change.

“Everybody on the scene that day … they said on the scene if they had even one (extinguisher) they could have got enough time to get her out, because only within a couple of minutes after the flames engulfed everything, the fire department showed up. They were so close,” Bendel said.

“It’s, you know, 50 bucks. Throw it into the trunk of your car. They don’t freeze. They don’t explode if you’re rear-ended. They won’t overheat.”

The St. Marys Fire Department is just the latest addition to what has been a growing list of departments and businesses that have joined forces with Extinguishers for Cindy.

The list includes a large number of departments from Elgin County that have all donated funds to purchase the fire extinguishers, Bendel said, including stations from Central Elgin, St. Thomas and Southwold.

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In an interview Friday, St. Marys fire Chief Richard Anderson credited retired paramedic Lorne Culbert with getting their department involved with the campaign.

“He approached us and he’s been instrumental, I guess, from the beginning of this,” Anderson said.

“(He) explained the situation and what had happened, the tragic event, (and) he said, ‘Would you like to be involved with something like this?’ I said, ‘Yeah, by all means, we’d love to do it.'”

Anderson said they anticipated handing out roughly 120 free fire extinguishers over the course of Saturday morning’s ceremony, donated by various local sponsors.

“We were only approached with this two weeks ago. The way that everyone came together, the various organizations, our department, Beverly from our corporate communications getting the word out, it’s just been phenomenal,” Anderson said.

Some local businesses, including Home Hardware locations in St. Marys and St. Thomas, have also been handing out window decals printed by a local company, Impressions Printing, to people purchasing fire extinguishers.

The decals read “FIRE EXTINGUISHER ON BOARD” and don the hashtags #ExtinguishersForCindy and #CindysLaw.

Devine’s husband and sister are both expected to attend the gathering on Saturday, which also coincides with the start of Fire Prevention Week.

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“To have them there, and to be involved with this and to see what we’re trying to do in support of this whole initiative, and to have them actually to speak with them,” Anderson said.

“I think it’s going to be an emotional day, and one where they’ll see a great outcome from it.”

Anderson added that they hoped to turn the free extinguisher giveaway into an annual event, “and hopefully one day this will become the law and that all vehicles will have an extinguisher in their car.”

Bendel said he has approached Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek and MP Karen Vecchio about Cindy’s Law, and says there appears to be positive movement on the matter.

“We wrote up a proposal already. Jeff Yurek took it to Toronto, the minister of transportation, Caroline Mulroney, her office called me back — it was about six months ago now — that they got the proposal, they’re looking it all up, they’re going to rewrite to present a bill to get this going,” he said.

“We’re now back in touch with Jeff Yurek’s office last week, and he’s taking that back to Toronto now to see where we stand and to make sure I’m putting the pressure on to make sure that we keep this going.

Bendel said Yurek and Vecchio guaranteed to him that something would be done and brought before the legislature.

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“I just want to make sure that as time goes and if … it gets delayed and then another election and then a new government comes in, I’ve got to start all over again,” he said.

980 CFPL reached out to Jeff Yurek’s office for comment on Friday but received no response by publishing time.

More information on Extinguishers for Cindy can be found on the campaign’s Facebook page.

In addition, the campaign has also produced a training video involving the St. Thomas Fire Department which details different fire extinguishers and how to use them.

–with files from Sawyer Bogdan and Andrew Graham

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